The Storm’s post–Sue Bird era is officially underway, with the veteran’s partner-in-crime, Breanna Stewart, announcing her exit from Seattle in a massive blow to the team.
Stewart signed a one-year supermax deal in 2022 for Bird’s swan song as Seattle bulked up for the legendary guard’s send-off season, leaving her long-term future with the franchise up in the air. Fast forward to this year’s WNBA free agency, and the 2018 league MVP was courted by a series of teams, with Stewart narrowing down the decision to the Storm and the Liberty. After a suspenseful and emoji-filled period of talks, Stewart announced Feb. 1 that she’d be heading back to her home state of New York, joining a stacked Liberty roster that includes new signee 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones and star guard Sabrina Ionescu. The move is arguably one of the most consequential and high-profile in league history.
With Bird, who spent the entirety of her 20-year career in Seattle, and Stewart, who was selected No. 1 by the Storm in the 2016 WNBA draft, gone, Seattle will need to cultivate a new identity. The duo played a critical role in each of the franchise’s four WNBA titles (2002, ’10, ’18, ’20), with Stewart securing the ’18 WNBA MVP, averaging 20.3 points and 8.6 rebounds through her six seasons with the squad. Following a dynastic run with Stewart and Bird at the helm, where do the Storm go from here?
Seattle has just two players under contract for the 2023 season in Jewell Loyd and Mercedes Russell, leaving the team with over $1 million to pad out its roster. Indeed, there are countless holes the Storm need to fill, but it's important to acknowledge what they do have. Loyd is perpetually underrated despite being one of the most explosive guards in the league. The 29-year-old played alongside Bird and Stewart during Seattle’s 2018 and ’22 title runs, playing an oft-underappreciated but crucial role. Averaging 15.3 points, 3.1 assists and 3.4 rebounds in her eight seasons in Seattle, Loyd is a formidable piece to build around.
First things first, though, the Storm need to sign a point guard, filling the massive shoes of Bird. Courtney Vandersloot, a Washington native, would be a logical heir as a veteran and one of the most successful point guards in league history, averaging 10.2 points, 6.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds in her 12-season career. There have been talks, however, of the 33-year-old being tied to Stewart’s move to New York. If the pull toward home somehow wins out over the allure of the Liberty, then Vandersloot and Loyd could team up in what would be one of the most impressive backcourts in the W.
Securing Ezi Magbegor, to whom the Storm extended a qualifying offer, will be another essential get for Seattle. The Australian center averaged 9.5 points and 5.6 rebounds for the Storm last season as a dominant presence down low before the team signed veteran Tina Charles in June. Magbegor has the ability to change games when she is on, and Seattle will look for a small forward to complement the 23-year-old and round out the roster.
Whichever way you slice it, the Storm have work to do, especially considering the reigning champions Aces, anchored by A’ja Wilson and Candace Parker, and the Liberty have curated dueling superteams. If Seattle wants to make another playoff run, it will need to make some savvy moves this offseason, making the most of its considerable cap space.